For my 50th birthday, a group of friends and I visited St. Lucia for a week, minus one day, thanks to American Airlines. While most of our trip was focused around water sports and enjoying the amazing food and accommodations at Anse Chastenet, I really wanted to hike the Gros Piton.
With the COVID outbreak in St. Lucia, the regulations consistently changed. About a month before our arrival, the rules kept the guests from leaving the resort. Fortunately, the restrictions lightened up, and we could be escorted from Anse Chastenet to the Gros Piton by an official driver from the property. Of course, I suspect our excursion cost a lot more than if we did it ourselves, but at least we got to take the guided hike up the Gros Piton.
Getting to the Pitons
To get to the Petite and Gros Pitons, which are picturesque volcanic plugs on the southwest shore of St. Lucia as well as a UNESCO world heritage site, we called the front desk with the cell phones they provided us to organize the excursion that began at 6:30AM.
The previous night, the staff left in our refrigerators, 1.5 liter bottles of water and a to go breakfast which included an apple, banana, two croissants, a salmon sandwich, and a hardboiled egg.
With water and food in hand, we met our driver that took us down the bumpy driveway, through town, past the botanic gardens, and eventually to the Piton recreation area.
At the park, guides greeted us in the parking lot and led us to the small headquarters. The headquarters include bathrooms, a small food shack, and a large room which features a model of the Gros Piton. Here they provide a brief overview of the hike and rent hiking poles for $5.
They describe the first part of the hike as a flat path that circles the Gros Piton before the trail steepens to the top. Along the way, there are two viewpoints and stop beneath an old mango tree.
The Ascent Up Gros Piton
After renting our poles, we headed out with Marfa in the lead and Margaret sweeping. Right of the bat, we trekked at a breakneck speed. If I stopped to snap a photo, I had to run to catch up. Margaret assured me, “It’s OK to go slow, that’s why I’m in the back.”
While that’s all well and good, I kind of wanted to hike together with everyone in the group! Anyway, I snapped a few photos, and then realized we hike mostly through scrub and jungle so there wasn’t much to see until we reached the first viewpoint.
Here we rested for five minutes before we started again. It reminded me of the turtle and the hare race. I would have been happier strolling and taking pictures rather than racing and then resting. Regardless, next, we raced up to the second view point.
Notice the word “up”. It was never really flat. Most of the hike resembled a stairmaster workout at the gym. We followed man made rock stairs most of the way with help of an occasional wood railing.
The second viewpoint was my favorite spot as it provided a lovely view of the Petite Piton. Funny enough, from afar, the Petite Piton looks taller. While it is not, it is far more difficult to climb as it includes using attached ropes to make it to the summit.
Continuing up the Gros Piton from here, the grade increased steeply as we slogged up the steps. By now it was apparent who lived at 9,000 feet, who lived at 7,500 feet, who lived at 5,000 feet, and who lived at sea level. Though slightly spread out, we were still able to keep up with Marfa and simply left Margaret behind!
Along the way to the mango tree, Tina asked Marfa two questions. Both responses were, “No.” To which Tina replied, “I’ll get a yes out of you sooner or later.” I came up with a bogus question to which she’d have to say, “yes” and at least we got a smile out of her.
After stopping at the mango tree, we switched back up the ridge on the wetter side of mountain. The rocks turned slick and mossy, but were very pretty. As we passed a hut, we could see the sky and knew we were close.
Upon reaching the summit, at 2,619 feet, drenched in sweat and almost out of water, we took in a view and ate a snack as we rested. I was even nice and gave Marfa a croissant. After asking what kind, she took it, moved to the corner and watched videos on her phone until we were ready to go.
While she could have cared less about guiding us and was far more proud of holding the fastest recorded time up and down the Gros Piton, she at least took good pictures when Jon wasn’t flipping the bird!
We probably spent less the 15 minutes on the small summit which we had to ourselves before we began our descent. In fact, we didn’t see anyone else until we reached the mango tree again. The poles came in slightly handy on the way down, but I found them to be in the way on the ascent. I usually like poles, but the being mostly large boulders made them difficult to use.
While there were no refreshments at the hut at the top, I’m glad we started early. Coming from a blizzard to 80 degrees and humidity felt hot! At the end, we desperately wanted more water, and my sweetest friend wanted to try the soursop ice cream. We waited at the refreshment stand, as we snapped photos of the certificate that we completed the Gros Piton.
Friendly Margaret, who we picked back up at the second overlook, tried to get Marfa to stop, but Marfa told us we could get refreshments at the headquarters. Not so! Only hot water and no ice cream.
Cat, who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, was completely miffed and said, “Well she’s only getting $10 for the three of us, and I’m giving it to Margaret!” Honestly, she didn’t deserve a tip at all, but I said, “Let’s just give Margaret $15. She can use it more than us and at least she tried.” In fact, I think everyone tipped Margaret. Hopefully, she didn’t share! Haha.
Jon started his watch as soon as we left the car, so the entire experience hiking the Gros Piton took us the 2 hours and 45 minutes while the average hiking time for the 3.2 mile trek is four hours! Despite the sweat, fast beating heart rate, and ultimate headache, we crushed it, and got to complain about Marfa, the supervisor, all the way home as we stunk up the air-conditioned van!
I highly recommend the hike, but if you go early on a Friday morning, for a more comfortable experience hiking the Gros Piton, make sure you don’t get the supervisor for her one outing a week. ETB